Fact Check: ISIS DID Exist Before Obama

Fact Check

  • by: Courtney Kealy
Fact Check: ISIS DID Exist Before Obama Fact Check: ISIS DID Exist Before Obama ISIS Came 1st

Did the militant group ISIS not exist before Barack Obama became president of the United States in 2009? No, that's not true: Since 2006 ISIS has existed, according to a former member of the National Security Council and according to The Wilson Center, a nonpartisan policy forum in Washington, D.C.

The claim appeared in a Facebook post (archived here) on April 1, 2021, under the title "Spot On....For 8 years Obama called America a Racist Country and Bowed to Foreign Leaders......We are Reaping His Legacy." It opens:

Before Obama we had no ISIS!

This is what the post looked like on Facebook at the time of writing:

Screen Shot 2022-04-13 at 5.40.06 PM.png

Facebook screenshot

(Source: Facebook screenshot was taken on Wed Apr 13 22:40:06 2022 UTC

While the post makes several claims pertaining to purported developments during Obama's presidency, this story will focus on the first claim: "Before Obama we had no ISIS!"
The origins of ISIS, also known as the Islamic State, can be traced to 2006, before Obama was elected in 2008 and took office in 2009.
Lead Stories contacted Douglas Ollivant, former Iraq director at the National Security Council under former presidents George W. Bush and Obama and now managing partner at international consulting firm Mantid International. He responded in an email on April 12, 2022:
The Islamic state was founded in 2006 from the former al Qaeda in Iraq. So, there has been an Islamic state since 2006. The only thing that changed while Obama was President was their expansion into Syria.
Ollivant is the co-author of the May 21, 2014, article "STATE OF JIHAD: THE REALITY OF THE ISLAMIC STATE IN IRA AND SYRIA." It says:
ISIS is, of course, the linear descendant of the Islamic State of Iraq, which was formed in the immediate aftermath of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's death and is now led by Abu Baqr al-Baghdadi. In 2006, the Islamic State of Iraq published a veritable 'Federalist Papers.'... ISIS is also known as ISIL, the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, and is also referred to by its Arabic acronym, DAASH--all are equivalent terms for the same organization.
The Wilson Center, a nonpartisan policy forum whose experts conduct independent research, published: "Timeline: the Rise, Spread, and Fall of the Islamic State" on October 28, 2019. It says:
The Islamic State - also known as ISIS, ISIL, or Daesh - emerged from the remnants of al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), a local offshoot of al Qaeda founded by Abu Musab al Zarqawi in 2004. It faded into obscurity for several years after the surge of U.S. troops to Iraq in 2007. But it began to reemerge in 2011. Over the next few years, it took advantage of growing instability in Iraq and Syria to carry out attacks and bolster its ranks.
The exact dates on the timeline are:
  • 2004: Abu Musab al Zarqawi establishes al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI).
  • June 7, 2006: Zarqawi is killed in a U.S. strike. Abu Ayyub al Masri takes his place.
  • October 15, 2006: al Masri announces the establishment of the Islamic State in Iraq (ISI), with Abu Omar al Baghdadi as its leader.

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  Courtney Kealy

Courtney Kealy is a writer and fact-checker at Lead Stories. A graduate of Columbia University’s School of Journalism, she specializes in national and foreign affairs with more than two decades experience in the Middle East. Her work has appeared on FOX News, AlJazeera America, ABC News, the New York Times, Marie Claire, Time and Newsweek.

Read more about or contact Courtney Kealy

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